Happiness. We all seek it. We all strive for it. And when we experience it, we are afraid to lose it. We constantly make happiness the end goal, the ideal situation. Even in our constitution, it is the PURSUIT of happiness that we all want the right to have. Happiness being the destination is so engrained in our collective and cultural mindset. And we often struggle because of this mindset. We have misunderstood happiness to be a destination we arrive at, when in reality it is an emotional state. We struggle because we hold on to it as if it is permanent, when its very nature is temporary.
Happiness is an emotion. Just like sadness, fear, and anger, happiness is an emotional state, and emotions come and go. They are fleeting. They come with the various experiences that we encounter in our lives.
But because many of us have misunderstood happiness to be the ultimate goal, the ideal situation, we view anything other than happiness as an intruder or an enemy, that does not belong in our lives. Our “feel good “ culture promotes this. We equate the things that make us happy as good, and the things that make us sad, or uncomfortable as bad. But Islam teaches us that emotions do not define what is actually beneficial or harmful for us.
In the Qur’an, God tells us:
“And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. God knows but you do not know.”
Emotions are not there to define our experiences. And they are not meant to be the destinations, but rather the means to God and to witnessing His truths. Emotions are powerful tools that help us navigate our path, experience the world, and they are constantly relaying important messages to us. Emotions like anger, sadness, happiness, all have something to offer us. They all teach us and give us insights into our inner world and into navigating this journey towards God. But if we fixate on happiness as being the only emotion that is good for us, the only emotion we embrace, how will we be open to what other experiences and emotions have to offer us and teach us?
In fact, our tendency to make happiness the destination is what prevents us from deriving benefit and meaning from all the experiences we go through in life, even from our difficult tests. And it is this mindset that can exacerbate many of our mental and emotional struggles. Existential psychology ( a branch of psychology) even tells us that depression is the gap between where we actually are and where we think we should be. This gap is a result of us making happiness the destination. We do this by attaching our happiness to a future situation we want as we send ourselves messages like: "If I get that job, I will be happy," "If I get married, I will be happy," "If my career launches, I will be happy," "If I get that house ,I will be happy." We identify these goals or destinations as happiness and therefore have placed our happiness in a time that still has not come. We made happiness a place we arrive at rather than an emotion we experience and simply a state we are going through. In doing so, in fixating on happiness as a future destination, we then ignore the present time that lies right in front of us, because in our minds, our happiness does not exist there yet.
So we get stuck in this gap, the gap between where we actually are, our present, and where we think we should be. And it is in this gap that much of our struggles and pain exist. Happiness has become a destination in the future that we struggle to constantly chase but never really arrive at.
But when we embrace our present, and accept all the emotions and experiences that lie within it, when we treat happiness as a state and not a destination, when we stop putting happiness in the future and begin maximizing what is already in front of us, and when we attach to the reality of what exists rather than to the illusion of what COULD be, there is something much more valuable than happiness to attain, and that is peace and liberation.
Peace and liberation can exist through the happy times and through the painful times. We can experience both difficult and easy emotions at a given time. Even in the Qur’an , God says: “Verily, WITH every hardship there is ease.” He does not say “AFTER” every hardship there is ease. That is because there is an opportunity to feel ease and peace through the struggles we encounter. And it depends on how we choose to react to what happens to us. This ease and peace can come when we open our hearts to what God wants to teach us through every experience and through every emotion. It comes when we begin to practice gratitude for what we already have in the reality that God created for us. It comes when we accept all the emotions we go through and view them as a means to Him.
Embracing and accepting our emotions and experiences for what they are will not hold us back. In fact, it is through this acceptance that we will be able to gain not only serenity, but a clearer understanding of God, ourselves, and the situations we are in. A beautiful and peaceful life can result from embracing not just the happiness, but also the pain and any unpleasantness we encounter as well.
The unpleasantness of life is part of our story too. Our life has the space and capacity for happiness and pain to exist, both contributing to our stability and growth. But in our pursuit of happiness, we forget to make room for anything else. But if we do decide to embrace all that God sends our way, if we decide to focus on the reality of what is in front of us, and not the illusion of what could be, if we accept the experiences, even if they are painful, we might not feel happiness every time, but we have a much higher chance of attaining peace and liberation. A peaceful mind and a liberated heart.
“Happiness is a journey, not a destination; happiness is to be found along the way not at the end of the road, for then the journey is over and it's too late. The time for happiness is today not tomorrow.”
- Paul H Dunn.
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